A report on the working and living conditions of Domestic Workers in South Africa for ALREI compiled by Hameda Deedat

1. Introduction and background

Domestic workers like Farm workers in South Africa are both characterised by a predominance of female employees, who are described as being the most vulnerable of workers in the South African labour market. Workers in these sectors despite the precarious and informal nature of their work were initially not covered by the LRA or the Basic Conditions of Employment. Despite the apartheid legislation and struggles domestic workers organised themselves and formed a union, called the SADWSA (South African Domestic Workers Union of South Africa, in as early as the 1980’s as an affiliate of COSATU). The first struggles taken up by the union was for amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relation Acts, to include domestic workers. Amendments to the Acts in 1993 and 1995 respectively, marked a major milestone especially when the word “servant” which under apartheid was the derogatory term used to refer to one domestic worker, was replaced by “worker” (Budlender, 2003). However, 2002, marked a momentous victory which saw the attainment of minimum wages for domestic workers. According to Budlender, this marked one of the largest reforms since democracy in 1994, not only because it achieved the minimum wage but this provision was specific to domestic workers, at the time. (Budlender, 2003). While the victory was monumental for domestic workers and their union, it was only the beginning of a long struggle towards decent work.

Noting this history and in a bid to address some of the exploitation and vulnerabilities of the past the need to define “a domestic worker” as a gardener, driver or person who looks after children, the aged, sick, frail or disabled in a private household, but not on a farm. This is the view taken in the Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act, 2002 (Act No. 4 of 2002).:This definition applied to an estimated 1 to 1.5 million workers in the country who work as domestics, gardeners, childminders (including drivers of children) and those who look after the sick, aged or disabled in private homes. The legislation also covers domestic workers who work as independent contractors. Furthermore these rights were then these enforced through the enactment of the  Domestic  Workers Act which set out the minimum wages for domestics and specifies the working conditions: :hours of work, overtime pay, salary increases, deductions, annual and sick leave. This legislation also distinguished the urban areas (classified as A Areas) where one minimum wage applies. A second minimum wage applies to domestic workers in non-urban areas (B Areas).

2. Country context and labour legislation

Amendments to the 1997 and 1998 LRA and BCEA respectively, served as further means to augment the gains made by farm workers and domestic workers thus far, when it recognised that as workers they had rights,, and  that these rights were both realised and recognised by the amendments. The introduction of these amendments came with the institutionalisation and establishment of the Centre for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration, CCMA. This important institution that provided workers and now domestic workers, with a legitimate space /place to challenge an unfair labour practice and seek recourse against unfair dismissals. Although domestic workers and farm workers now received protection and rights under the BCEA and LRA, the minimum wages still needed to be determined. Since the domestic sector does not have a bargaining council, the minimum wages for domestic and farm workers are determined by the Minister of Labour through a sectoral determination (Budlender 2003). Sectoral determinations are in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and are applied in a similar fashion to the wage determinations, which occurred under apartheid and before the bargaining councils and central bargaining.  The recommendation is generally that determinations are over three years but give due consideration to increases in the consumer price index plus one or two additional percentage points and thus include incremental increases over the second and third years. (Budlender 2013)

In practice however, this due to the cost inflation the increase have been minimal in comparison. The current Basic Minimum Wages for Domestic Workers as proclaimed by the DOL and as per the sectoral determination valid until November 30 2017 is as follows: Wages in Area A which includes major metropolitan municipalities and cities‚ and work more than 27 hours a week will be subjected to a CPI plus 1% increase for the period 1 December 2016 to 30 November 2017. CPI*** (Headline) six weeks prior to 1 December 2016 has been 6,1%.This means that wages are:[1]

Minimum rates for the period

1 December 2014 to

30 November 2015

Minimum rates for the period

1 December 2015 to

30 November 2016

Minimum rates for the period

1 December 2016 to

30 November 2017

Hourly Rate R


Hourly Rate  R


Hourly Rate R


Weekly Rate R


Weekly Rate R


Weekly Rate R


Monthly Rate R


Monthly Rate R


Monthly Rate R


Domestic workers who work in “Area B” and who work for more than 27 hours a week will receive:

  • An increase in the hourly rate to R11.31‚
  • An increase in their weekly rate to R508.93 and,
  • An increase in their monthly rate to R2205.17.

“The minimum wage adjustment is in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act which is regulated through the Sectoral Determination. Domestic workers are by law classified as vulnerable‚ hence the Sectoral Determination governing minimum wage and conditions of employment”[2]

3. Working conditions

Since 2002 several efforts were dedicated to determining what the best working conditions were for Domestic worker and the table below demonstrates some of the deliberations on key employment related criteria that still informs their basic working conditions of employment today. Wages for domestic workers in South Africa are  based  on household income usually referred to as Area A and Area B. Area A was made up of 53 municipalities in which average household income was above a specified cut-off (R24,000) while Area B was made up of all other municipalities. Area A was estimated to account for approximately 52 per cent of all households.(data obtained in 1996).Historically  as alluded to above ,domestic work arrangements were largely informally with few employer and employee relationships documented in proper, written contracts (Budlender 2013).This resulted in high occurrences of exploitation amongst domestic workers, and workers being subjected to unfavourable conditions, for too long hours, with very little remuneration, Currently the Domestic Workers Act, THE BCEA and the sectoral determination have safeguarded workers against these exploitative and precarious arrangement and conditions. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act for example now requires employers to conclude a written employment agreement with their domestic workers, gardeners and childminders (including drivers of children) and those who look after the sick, aged or disabled in private homes. (Dept of labour, 20    )

The Contract is clarifies what each party can expect and has to contribute to the relationship and is signed by both Domestic worker and the employer.  This work contract will specify duties, hours and place of work, wages, overtime, leave and termination of services for a clear understanding of the terms of employment

The maximum working hours: including meal breaks, rest periods, and night work allowed for workers (Sectoral Determination 7 applies to all domestic workers  (including independent contractors and those employed by agencies), except domestic workers who work on farms; or are covered by another sectoral determination, or a bargaining council agreement

Notice period and termination of employment: Notice to terminate must be served to the employer in writing (unless you the worker is unable to write).  The same applies to the employer. The employer must verbally explain the notice to the domestic worker if he/she is not able to understand it in written form.. Notice must be given as follows:

  • one week in advance – if employed for 6 months or less
  • four weeks in advance – if employed for more than 6 months

After notice is given,: domestic workers have the following rights: Domestic workers living in accommodation provided by the employer must be given one month’s notice to leave the accommodation or until the contract of employment could lawfully have been terminated. All money that is owing to you (for example, wages, allowances, pro rata leave, paid time-off not taken, and so on) must be paid.

Termination of contract of employment: If a domestic worker cannot return to work because of a disability, the employer must investigate the nature of the disability and decide whether or not it is permanent or temporary. The employer must try to change or adapt the duties of the employee to accommodate the employee as far as possible. But, if it is not possible for the employer to change or adapt the duties of the domestic employee then the employer can terminate his/her services.

Severance Pay: An employer who has to dismiss an employee due to a change in his/her economic, technological, or structural set-up, called operational requirements in the determination, is responsible for severance pay to the employee.

Work on Sundays: Work on Sundays is voluntary and a domestic employee cannot be forced to work on a Sunday. A domestic worker who works on a Sunday must be paid double the daily wage.
If the employee ordinarily works on a Sunday he/she should be paid one and a half times the wage for every hour worked. If both the employer and employee agree, the employee can be paid by giving her / him time off of one and a half hours off for each overtime hour worked.

Public Holidays : Domestic workers are entitled to all the public holidays in the Public Holidays Act but the they may also agree to other public holidays. Work on a public holiday is voluntary which means a domestic employee may not be forced to work.

Annual leave: Full time domestic workers are entitled to 3 weeks leave per year. If the employer and employees agree they can take leave as follows: 1 day for every 17 days worked or one hour for every 17 hours worked.

Sick leave: During the first six months of employment, an employee is entitled to one day’s paid sick leave for every 26 days worked. During a sick leave cycle of 36 months, an employee is entitled to paid sick leave that is equal to the number of days the employee would normally work during a period of 6 weeks.

Maternity leave: A domestic worker is entitled to up to 4 consecutive months maternity leave.

Family responsibility leave: Domestic workers who have been employed for longer than 4 months and for at least 4 days a week are entitled to take 3 days paid family responsibility

Deduction from the remuneration: An employer is not allowed to deduct any monies from the employee’s wages without his/her written permission.

Training: A Domestic Workers Skills Development Project, was launched. Financed by the Department of Labour's National Skills Fund to the tune of R120-million, the project aims to train 27 000 domestic workers around the country over the next three years. Trainees will receive formal

4. Conclusion:
Domestic workers in South Africa and farm workers are considered to be the lowest paying occupations with high levels of vulnerability, exploitation and precariousness. While the legislation to provide rights to this vulnerable group of workers has been revised and ensured their inclusion into the BCEA, they are covered by a sector determination that regulates and their working conditions and wages, high levels of unemployment, the need for domestic help and the historical context of the relationship between employers and domestic workers has allowed for a downward variation of these conditions. Mildred Oliphant who organises domestic workers under SADWU has on several occasions raised how improved working conditions, wages and even the demand for a national minimum wage for domestic workers,  is seen by others as impossible demands, and contributory factors to why domestic workers are retrenched or unemployed.  Furthermore, despite the recourse at the CCMA, organisations like PASSOP that defends the rights of domestic workers, and the implementation of progressive legislation, exploitation, harassment, abuse and vulnerabilities still persist. The current hard economic climate with the rising cost of living and levels of equally high levels of unemployment especially amongst the youth all domestic workers prone to exploitation thereby perpetuating this situation. Sadly, it must be noted that more than 3 decades into our democracy and yet the concept of maid and madams akin to the apartheid era ties still persist sentiments of which are echoed through the voices and experiences of workers. They have the last word on this matter.


Domestic workers are an integral part of the South African landscape, providing the ever more prevalent working moms with a crucial extra pair of extra hands as they rush around to get everything done. Can you really say thank you enough to Mavis for the care and attention she gives your children when she looks after them every day? Or the sanity she restores to your pigsty of a house where dirty dishes and toys are strewn everywhere when you fly out the door every morning?”

“Let's be clear: the minimum wage is the very, very bare minimum. It only covers you legally. Morally, it's dangerously low. Do the maths: who can live on such a low income? How much is her travelling costs?”

“Not only should we, who entrust our children's care to nannies, pay them a fair living wage, but we should be adding decent benefits too, like you would expect at a job you'd apply for. Travel costs and a healthy lunches are a must.”

I am as son of a Domestic Worker who worked as a Gardener as well as a Driver to his employer Mrs G for the passed 18 years. I can say my father died while he was still working for this woman, cos he was reporting on duty 1 day in a week even though he was still not the right doctor’s permission to start working. Now after He passed away on the 12 May 2016, the employer said he is not entitled to anything (UIF, Annual Leave and Service Parkage for that 18 years.”

5. References
  1. Budlender. D. 2013 :The introduction of a minimum wage for domestic workers in South  Africa, International Labour Office, Geneva.
  2. Budlender, D. 2016: The introduction  of a minimum wage for domestic workers in South Africa Conditions of Works and employment, Series no. 72, ILO 
  3. Budlender D and Lund, F. 2009; Nurses, Domestic Workers, and Home-Based Care Workers
  4. Department of Labour , South Africa Sectoral Determination on minimum wages for Domestic Workers Dec 2016- www.labour.gov.za
  5. PASSOP: Are you paying your domestic worker enough?
  6. Peyper, L. 2016 Department of Labour sectoral determination for Domestic workers 2016
  7. UNRISD , 2009  Research Report 4 Paid care providers in South Africa: Nurses, Domestic workers and






[2] ibid

[1] Data take from the recent sectoral determination set by the Department of labouroL 2016/17